By Telisa Swan
Lyle Tuttle was more than a dear friend, he was a mentor and a true living legend. Not just for me, but for many, many others. I first got to know Lyle in 1999 at Crazy Philadelphia Eddie’s first annual convention. What a wonderful weekend that was! We all gathered at Eddie’s for some legendary pre-function party and caravanned to the show...but that’s a whole other story.
Lyle was always telling tasteless jokes, stories about days gone by, imparting wisdoms on life and tattoo equipment, and had an enormous number of fantastic quotes I referred to as Lyle-isms. One of my favorite quotes is, "The Tattoo machine has turned more pukes into princes than a magic wand ever could!”
Lyle was quite popular with the ladies. I was always amazed at the beauties that hung on his arm over the years. It is rumored that there are a number of photos in existence of his infamous red socks, peeking out from under the head of some woman or another’s traipsing locks of hair. I have never actually seen one of these photos (taken from above, I assume). However, that, I believe, is the story of why the red socks got to be such a "thing." This said, Lyle also had a sincere fondness for women and often surrounded himself with them. It wasn’t a sexual thing, he genuinely loved us for who we are. He made sexist, racist, terrible jokes but deep down, Lyle was a lover.
I am proud to say I am a member of his "Momma Monkeys." An esteemed position that indicates you are a female friend of Lyle’s who nurtured and cared for him but did not sleep with him. After his service there were a number of his mama monkeys who got together for a photo. I made the comment, "I can’t believe there are this many women here, who haven’t slept with Lyle!" which got a big laugh, of course.
Lyle Tuttle was born October 7, 1931 and passed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 at his home in Ukiah, California. He is survived by his wife, Judy Aurre, and daughter Suzanne Tuttle. His memorial service was Saturday, March 30 at Eversole Mortuary in Ukiah, California. The room was filled to the brim with flowers for people all over the world who sent their condolences and expressed sorrow they could not attend. Still, The room was over four and spell outside with steamed friends and police.
Danielle Boiardi, Lyle’s confidante and collaborator in the Lyle Tuttle Collection endeavor, started the speakers by giving a heartfelt talk about Lyle and their efforts to preserve his legacy. She mentioned how Honest Charlie Potter, who came all the way from San Antonio Texas, had given Lyle a blackjack he took off an FBI agent who tried to bust him and his gang of bank robbers, way back when. It was rumored the Doobie Brothers song, “China Grove“ was about Charlie‘s hideout. At any rate, Danielle said it gave Lyle a lot of comfort in his last days. Apparently, he had been instrumental in getting honest Charlie to quit robbing banks. But again, that’s a whole other story.
Other speakers included Dana Brunson, Good Time Charlie Cartwright, Dianne Mansfield and Don Ed Hardy. I wish I could tell you what each had to say but I honestly can’t remember. My eyes wouldn’t stop leaking.
The place was packed with people in the tattoo business. Some I know well, some I would love to get to know better. These friends of Lyle included Honest Charlie Potter, Junior Salmon, Corey Miller, Sharon Brouse, Dianne Mansfield, Orlando Rodriguez, Dan Dringenberg, Mike Martin, Bert Rodriguez, Andrea Hammons (Montie), Rusty Savage, Dana Brunson, Madame Chinchilla and Mr. G, Inny Lee, Omar Edmison, Lefty LiPuma, David Rogerson, Thomas Asher and Lisa Del Toro, Bonnie Jean McVay, Diane Gruver, Lisa Schmoldt, Paula Savage and many more I either don’t know very well or I am forgetting to mention. I humbly apologize.
After the service, we all gathered at Club Calpella for a catered dinner of spaghetti, chicken Alfredo, garlic bread and salad. We had drinks in Lyle’s honor and had the opportunity to pass the mic around. Young and old alike swapped stories and Lyle-isms. We laughed, we cried, we laughed and cried at the same time. Many people told of their experiences and bonds with Lyle. The mama monkeys got together and told stories of Lyle’s antics over the years. There were locals, young and old, who had words of praise, and folks from many walks of life who were moved to speak about Lyle and all he meant to them.
The lion share of speakers were tattoo artists of all ages and years of experience, who expressed their gratitude for the friendship they had with Lyle. He was truly blessed with a large family of tattoo people who loved and cared for him. A plethora of tattoo friends wore bright red socks in his honor. I didn’t have red but I had a green pair with marijuana leaves; I figured that would be acceptable to Lyle. We started taking photos of our socks in a small group of friends. That group began to expand until we were ended up with about 40 people showing their red socks. I had no idea there would be so many folks who were in the know. Omar Edmison and Lefty LiPuma had come prepared, and the lucky few of us came home with a tattoo of a red sock with seven stars. The stars represented all seven continents Lyle tattooed on. Some of us circled the number of continents we tattooed on in red ink it was a moment only a tattooer could truly understand and appreciate. I will cherish the memory, and the small tattoo always.
We stayed at Club Calpella until late into the evening, people slowly straggling off to their homes and hotel rooms. It seemed as though no one wanted to be the first to go. Hugs were many, tight and heartfelt. It felt like the end of something big, something special. There will never be another Lyle Tuttle. We will miss his seminars and the way he rambled off subject in the most hilarious ways, just to come full circle and ask, "What was I talking about?" We will miss his incredible well-spring of knowledge about tattoo machines and tattoo history. We will miss his birthday celebrations, Suzy’s delightful (and deadly) cookies, and Orlando’s delicious roast pig. We will miss his jokes and stories, and most of all we will miss the man himself. He was truly one of a kind. Rest in peace and Godspeed my friend. Save me a spot at the cool cats’ table until I get there.
Photo by Bob Dass, 2018
Well-known Ukiah tattoo artist, Lyle Tuttle asked me to take his photo holding a tattoo machine he built himself. The photo was meant to copy one that was taken 6 years ago. I was happy to comply.
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